A Two-Phase Model for Evaporating Solvent-Polymer Mixtures
Thin films of polymer mixtures made by spin-coating can phase separate in two ways: by forming lateral domains, or by separating into distinct layers. The latter situation (self-stratification or vertical phase separation) could be advantageous in a number of practical applications, such as polymer optoelectronics. We demonstrate that, by controlling the evaporation rate during the spin-coating process, we can obtain either self-stratification or lateral phase separation in the same system, and we relate this to a previously hypothesised mechanism for phase separation during spin-coating in thin films, according to which a transient wetting layer breaks up due to a Marangoni-type instability driven by a concentration gradient of solvent within the drying film. Our results show that rapid evaporation leads to a laterally phase-separated structure, while reducing the evaporation rate suppresses the interfacial instability and leads to a self-stratified final film.